You might be surprised to learn that water is the buzzword among some folks in Minnesota's craft beer industry. Certain craft beer makers and ingredients suppliers are laser-focused on water conservation, quality and availability.
Water is a crucial ingredient in beer, comprising more than 90 percent of it. In many ways, water is to beer what the terroir or soils are to wine. Rebecca Newman, quality control manager at Summit Brewing Co. in St. Paul, said brewers pay a lot of attention to where they source their water.
"Did you know there are actual people out in the world who do water analysis much like diamond buyers?" she said. "They're looking at the color and the clarity and the consistency of that water and making decisions: do I put a juice plant there, or maybe do I put a canning plant, do i put a brewery there? Or do I make rubber tires there instead?"
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Water is also top of mind for some brewers in terms of its other uses within their facilities, like cleaning, and in terms of the water pollutants they create with their waste products.
Ilan Klages-Mundt, co-founder and chief maestro of Insight Brewing in Minneapolis, said for him, good water stewardship is both a conservation issue and a business issue. He thinks consumers should care about breweries' commitment to stewardship.
"As a consumer, I think it's important to be educated and ask the questions of the breweries that you're consuming the products of," he said. "Are they paying attention to conservation?"
Even craft beer industry ingredients suppliers, like Ben Boo, co-founder of Mighty Axe Hops, says water conservation is top of mind. Mighty Axe is Minnesota's largest hops producers. Boo said he and his partner use drip irrigation, a less wasteful method of irrigation, and they have also placed buffer strips on their farm to mitigate the runoff of nitrogen, among other things, from their farm, as nitrogen runoff into the Mississippi is causing big algal blooms and other problems.
"I think to take water and to give a name to it and give reverence to it through the vehicle of beer, in this case — to find value in water that more appropriately reflects the value it offers us in our daily lives, I guess that's the biggest thing we can do," said Boo.
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MPR economics correspondent Chris Farrell hosted the panel discussion with Boo, Klages-Mundt and Newman at the Southern Theater in Minneapolis November 8, 2017. It was organized by the Water Main, MPR's new initiative aimed at helping Minnesotans understand the value of water in our everyday lives.
To listen to the program, click the audio player above.